Sunday, July 8, 2007

Vocabulary notebooks

Jennifer Wallace - Anhui Gongye Daxue, Anhui Province, China

Last year I had 2 classes using them in a systematic way. We built up a list of new vocabulary at the side of the blackboard in the course of the lesson. After the lesson, for each word, the students had to add 5 things: pronunciation, grammar [e.g. countable noun], dictionary definition, example sentence [not one from the dictionary], then Chinese.

I collected these in regularly and their vocab notebook work made up the largest part of their coursework mark. That might sound crazy, but I thought it was more than just the vocabulary work in itself. It showed and rewarded the student who was using an organised approach to their studies, it forced them into a different technique of learning vocabulary, and in doing it, it forced a certain amount of reflection and review of the content of the lesson [these were first year Oral English classes].

Students from those classes remember it with mixed feelings - I checked relentlessly, and the grades were strictly according to how closely you followed the given 5-steps - but admit they remembered the words without any reciting. So my conclusion is that it was successful - but hard work! I argued that with Oral English lessons there weren’t enormous numbers of new words and that this was possible [it was], and that in the process they learnt a new method of learning vocabulary.

I’m now just starting a similar thing with my present first year classes, but this time have preceded it by teaching them something about attention, short and long-term memory, and that organising vocabulary like this is one way of getting words from short-term memory into long-term memory. Thank heavens for the Internet and the ease with which you can suddenly decide you want to read up on memory and memorising! I’m aware from my own Chinese language learning that I need these memory techniques just as much as they do - my Chinese teacher could be about to get a shock as I start insisting that we do this with my Chinese lesson vocabulary, too!

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